Couper les cheveux en quatre

Idiomatic French Expression

Couper les cheveux en quatre
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Meaning to split hairs, to nit-pick, to quibble
Literally to cut the hair in four
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Pronunciation French sound files [koo pay lay sheu veu a(n) kahtr]
IPA   [ku pe le ʃø vø ɑ̃ katrə]

Usage notes: Colorful idiomatic expressions often vary wildly from one language to the next, but couper les cheveux en quatre is one of the exceptions. The French and English expressions are very similar: they both dismiss debates over slight differences as cutting/splitting hair. Of course, since "split" means to cut the hair along its length into two pieces, it’s not quite the same as French’s "cut it into four (pieces)," but there’s no need to quibble about it.  🙂

Par exemple…

Arrête de couper les cheveux en quatre !   Stop splitting hairs!
Il ne faut jamais débattre avec Alain – il adore couper les cheveux en quatre.   You should never debate with Alain – he loves nit-picking.


  • chercher la petite bête (literally, "to search for the little bug")
  • discutailler
  • ergoter
  • être tatillon
  • chercher des poux
  • chinoiser
  • chipoter
  • pinailler
  • enculer les mouches
  • chicaner
  • ratiociner

 Related lessons

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Elle coupe les cheveux en quatre

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